Back to class, back to normal: Students, educators return to school

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Mark Hedrick and Brandi Hedrick walk with their daughter, Haley Hedrick, a third grader and son, Jackson Herick, a kindergartener, as the parents drop off their children at the first day back at Salem Elementary School on Wednesday. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

By Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

NAUGATUCK — Naugatuck and Region 16 schools welcomed students back to classrooms this week as parents from both school districts were eager to have a more normal school experience for the 2022-23 school year.

Borough parent Jalisa Desouva said her daughters have been waiting to come back to school all summer.

“We feel great about it,” Desouva said about her daughters, Hadassah Desouva, a first-grader at Salem Elementary School and Hannah Desouva at Early Childhood Center at Central Avenue.

Borough students returned back to school on Aug. 31 from summer vacation. Other parents shared the same feelings as Jalisa Desouva on returning back to school with a little more normalcy after the last two school years starts.

Melissa Hinds said she’s just excited that children, including her daughter, Maliyah Hinds, a kindergartner at Salem Elementary School, could be back in person and see faces without masks.

“It’s important for the socialization of kids,” Melissa Hinds said. “I’m happy to see faces and that we’re back in person.”

Shelly Johnson said she was glad to be back to the new normal, after she dropped off her son, Cole Johnson, a first-grader at Salem Elementary School.

“I’m just excited that the kids and teachers and parents get to hang out more freely,” Shelly Johnson said.

Brandi Hedrick said she’s happy that things getting back to regular routine, after she and her husband Mark Hedrick dropped off their children, Haley Hedrick, a third-grader, and Jackson Hedrick, a kindergartner at Salem Elementary School.

Jalisa Desouva drops of one her daughters (middle), Hadassah Desouva, a frist grader,along side her sister, Hannah Desouva, at Salem Elementary School, at the first day back from summer vacation on Wednesday. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

“Kids can have a bit of a normal school year again,” Brandi Hedrick said. “It’s nice to have some normal routine back.”

Prospect Elementary School parents Herman Lebel Jr. and Courtney Coleman were pleased to have their children begin the school year with more of a normalcy as Region 16 school district, consisting of Prospect and Beacon Falls, began the school year on Aug. 29.

“Just relieved, totally relieved that the kids get to see their friends and their teachers fully without having to deal with the mask issue and be too worried about COVID anymore,” Lebel Jr. said.

Lebel Jr. said he was happy for his son, first-grader Nathan Lebel. His son now gets to spend time his friends and teachers and will be able to fully communicate without masks.

Courtney Coleman said her daughter, first-grader Madalyn Coleman, was excited to get back to school.

“It definitely feels good sending her without having to wear a mask,” Coleman said. “It feels more normal. She’s excited and I think happy to not be in a mask and excited to go back and start her year.”

School officials were pleased with the start of the new school year.

After he visited every school and almost every classroom in the school district, Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said the first day of school was great.

“You could feed the enthusiasm, hope, and positive energy in all facets of our schools,” Montini said. “Smiles were everywhere! We are ready for a great school year!”

Region 16 Superintendent of Schools Michael Yamin said school officials and staff were prepared to open school buildings this year.

“Our administrators did a good job,” Yamin said.

Shelly Johnson drops of her son, Cole Johnson, a first grader, at Salem Elementary School at the first day back from summer vacation on Wednesday. Andreas Yilma Citizen’s News

Other than some busing challenges where some of the bus routes ran a little late, the first day back ran smoothly for Region 16. School officials will make some minor changes to bus routes to provide more equity in the number of stops, Yamin said.

Region 16 schools were fully staffed for schools and school buses.

Montini said the Human Resource Department and administrators worked all summer to fill positions with high quality employees. As of Thursday afternoon, the school district hired 60 certified employees and 50 non certified employees.

The school district is in the process of filling their remaining vacancies, including five certified positions and three paraeducator positions, Montini added.

Both superintendents had similar goals to progress the school districts forward in the new school year.

Yamin said his goals for the new school year are to improve academics, address social and emotional needs and expand curriculum opportunities that will help engage all students and meet their needs and interests.

Montini said one of the goals for the new school year is to ensure all students feel a strong sense of belong and community within the schools.

“To communicate and partner with our amazing families and continuously improve as an organization,” Montini said.